RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The CDC has given us a first look at how many people have died across the country specifically because of long COVID-19.
But we don’t know yet what that picture looks like at the state or local level.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services does not have data on specific long COVID cases in the state because it does not track COVID patients after their case is reported, agency spokeswoman Summer Tonizzo said in a statement.
Dr. Zack Moore, the state epidemiologist, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are much better suited than the state agency is to devote the time and manpower needed to properly track those whose COVID symptoms persist for more than four weeks.
“Long COVID is a bit of a different creature” than regular COVID,” Moore said Monday.
Someone who tests positive for COVID at a lab or a doctor’s office might receive a phone call asking about his or her symptoms. But obviously, there’s no way to know in advance whose case will develop into long COVID.
“Those people are not going to call you and follow up with you over time, which is what you really need to track long COVID,” he said. “That’s a much longer investment with maintaining that connection with the person after they’ve been diagnosed with COVID to figure out how many of them recover fully within four weeks, how many of them go on to have what we would consider post-COVID conditions.
“So it’s not something that’s part of our routine tracking systems that we have here,” he added. “But there are a lot of systems that are much better suited for that that have been put into place.”
Obviously, the CDC is one of those groups, with Moore pointing out a website where several of those data sets and studies are compiled.
And the University of North Carolina might be able to help, too.
Researchers there hope their VISION study of 7,500 people recently testing positive for the disease will help provide a clearer picture of long COVID — not to mention a clearer definition.
“If it is around 15 to 20 percent of people having long COVID after they get diagnosed, we should have a good number of people that we can get a very good sort of longitudinal picture of what things are like for them,” said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at the UNC School of Medicine. “Because right now, when you look for long COVID in the literature from these reports, they’re often talking about symptoms at three months or six months. We don’t know beyond that.”
The CDC’s study — the first to quantify the number of long-COVID deaths in the United States — found it mentioned as the cause of death for 3,544 deaths between Jan. 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022.
That accounts for only about 0.3 percent of the more than 1 million COVID deaths in the U.S. during that time, but experts say it’s likely a significant undercount, saying about a third of people who catch the virus wind up with long-term symptoms.
Most people dying of long COVID turned out to be white, older and men.
Males accounted for 51.5 of those deaths, and people between 65 and 84 accounted for more than 47 percent of them.
And 78.5 percent of them took place in non-Hispanic white people, with one potential explanation that more Black or Latino people may have died of traditional COVID before they could develop the longer-term symptoms that were the focus of the CDC report.
Moore says those trends likely hold up for North Carolina.
“There’s no reason to believe that the findings would be any different here than anywhere else,” Moore said.
CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.